Navigating the Fork in the Road, Part 2

Having arrived at a career crossroads, a would be applications developer who has experience in operations, the help desk, point-of-sale support, Unix and mainframe security administration, intranet maintenance, Web site design, and Ecommerce has four options. Last week's column looked at how Anthony (a pseudonym) could move into a business analyst or security specialist position. Continuing the discussion, this week we look at the roles of Web architect and Ecommerce developer.

Web Architect

Job description: The Web architect constructs the overall functional and technical design for a company's Web presence. The nature of the job may vary depending on whether that Web presence is informational, entertainment-oriented, or transactional, but, in general, the technical duties include selecting the hardware and software platforms, designing the site navigation, determining system volume and traffic patterns, and developing an applications framework. The Web architect may also be involved in helping to establish the branding strategy and storyboarding the content.

Skills and experience required: This is not a job for an IT novice. The Web architect must be able to evaluate and select the appropriate hardware and software for the Web site infrastructure, and so must be familiar with major platforms such as Vignette and ATG Dynamo.

Knowledge of key Web development languages and tools -- including Java, CORBA, Visual Basic, XML, and C++ -- are also essential. Web architects also need a working knowledge of Oracle or another relational database, and operating systems such as Windows 2000, Unix, and Linux, as well as an overall understanding of network architecture and Web security.

Training and experience in a software development methodology offer a good background for this job. As for non-technical skills, Web architects should have strong communication skills; work well with end-users, business unit managers, and IT staff and management; and understand key business processes. Project-management skills are a must.

With his Web site development, intranet, and Ecommerce experience, as well as his demonstrated capacity to work with end-users, Anthony has a good deal of the necessary background to qualify for a Web architect position. A stint as an Ecommerce developer (detailed below) would be a good stepping-stone for Anthony to move on to the Web architect position. He will likely need some additional training and experience in networking and infrastructure principles, as well as project management and software development courses. He may want to consider getting certified in key Internet technologies; for example, the Sun Certified Architect for Java Technology or a vendor-neutral certification like Sysoft's Certified Ebusiness Professional program would help fill in the gaps in his resume.

Ecommerce Developer

Job description: Ecommerce developers construct the applets and applications that enable companies to do business online, from routine tasks like creating shopping cart functionality to more complex projects like integrating Web front-ends with backend applications for real-time inventory look-up. Customer relationship management (CRM) applications, such as those that enable personalization and user-specific marketing (e.g., prompts that suggest "If you like this CD, you may also want to try this artist..."), or Email campaigns, customer loyalty reward programs, and others may also fall under the responsibility of the Ecommerce developer.

Skills and experience required: Ecommerce developers usually have some prior applications development experience or at least a Web site design background. They should be proficient in at least one key, Web-related development language such as Java, C++ or Visual Basic, and knowledge of CORBA and XML are a huge plus. They should also be versed in the Ecommerce platform of choice at their company, such as ATG Dynamo or Vignette. Any experience developing transaction-oriented applications also provides a good background for this position. Going forward, knowledge of Microsoft's .NET may also be a necessary qualification. As with any applications development job, Ecommerce developers must work well on teams and understand workflow and business processes.

Since he is already working on the Ecommerce team and is enrolled in a university-level Java course, Anthony is in line to move into the Ecommerce developer role. But he may have a tough road ahead of him, as he laments that programming does not come naturally to him. He may want to augment his Java training by going back to the drawing board and taking some math review courses. A course in software development methodology would also be useful. To get a leg up on the development track, Anthony may want to spend some time in a business analyst role (see last week's newsletter, "Navigating the Fork in the Road, Part 2" at http://itw.itworld.com/GoNow/a14724a54662a111463202a6 concurrent with his Java training.

Whether Anthony decides to become a security specialist (outlined in "Navigating the Fork in the Road, Part 2") or to pursue a business analyst-Ecommerce developer/Web architect track, he will need to continue his training and education as well as work closely with a mentor. Anyone trying to turn a corner in their IT career should not hesitate to get the training a new position requires, even if it means spending your own money (job-related training is frequently tax deductible as a non-reimbursable employee expense - check with your accountant).

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Have you found yourself at an IT career crossroads lately? Do you find the current IT job market completely vexing? Send your IT career conundrums to Leslie Jaye Goff, writer of the IT Career Advisor Newsletter, at acmefreelancers@yahoo.com. Ms. Goff will paraphrase your letters and delete your names to protect your anonymity.

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